There are more than 3 million people who have health insurance through Medicare in Florida and dozens of thousands of those beneficiaries could qualify for help paying insurance premiums, deductibles, co-payments and prescriptions, according to the Florida Department of Elder Affairs SHINE program.
SHINE, which stands for Serving Health Insurance Needs for Elders, helps seniors get financial assistance. But Dani Donahue, a liaison at the Senior Connection Center in Tampa, said many don't use it.
She said they're trying to reach people who could save hundreds or thousands of dollars a year.
"We talk to people every day that are choosing between their mortgage, their medication and their food and its heartbreaking because how do you choose between those things?” Donahue said. “And so one of the ways in which SHINE can help is help them apply for one of two types of financial assistance."
Those two programs are:
1. Medicare Savings Program - A specialized type of Medicaid that pays the Medicare Part B premium, which could save most Floridians an average of $100 monthly.
2. Extra Help - Also known as "Low Income Subsidy," it can lower monthly premiums, yearly deductibles and co-payments for prescriptions for those with Medicare Part D prescription drug plans.
Donahue says the center has helped 23,000 Medicare enrollees save money just this year. But there are nearly 35,000 more seniors and disabled Floridians in the five counties they serve -- Hardee, Highlands, Hillsborough, Manatee and Polk -- that are eligible for subsidies and not enrolled.
Program benefits are determined through an application and consultation with a SHINE counselor. The Senior Connection Center alone has about 60 volunteer counselors and there are about 400 statewide.
"We survey our clients every year and often we'll see written on there, 'my SHINE counselor is an angel' and 'you saved my life' and there's no higher pay,” Donahue said.
For more information, call 1-800-96-ELDER or visit floridashine.org.